Should Special Effects Determine If You Have the Right Salespeople?

When we evaluate a sales force, one of the answers we usually provide is whether or not a company has the right salespeople.  Right for what?

  • Roles – most often this involves looking at the people who are currently expected to hunt, farm, or manage accounts
  • Capabilities – Are they A players, B’s, C’s or worse?
  • Potential – Can they be developed, and if so, how much better can they become, and what will it take to get them there?
  • Strategies – Can they execute your strategies for going forward?

Before those questions can be answered though, there are some variables that must be clarified:

  • Sustainability – is the business sustainable at the current revenue run-rate?  If it can’t, the first variable is urgency and a very limited time line for improvement. (Thanks to Chris Mott – The Sales Expediter for this angle)
  • Scalability – has the business reached a point where the business or unit must scale or return profits immediately?  If it has, then there is urgency to have a core foundation of solid salespeople in place before expansion begins.
  • Sales Management – is sales management capable of supporting a sales training & development initiative today? Capable means that existing sales management can coach to and hold salespeople accountable to the new sales process, measurables, strategies and tactics. In most companies, sales management needs a head start to develop those capabilities.
  • Practicality – who are the trainable salespeople that will also be able to respond to training in the given time frame, and with the existing sales management?  When there is urgency, the time frame is short and only some of the trainable salespeople can be developed that quickly.  With less urgency, sales management’s capabilities and the current limitations of the trainable salespeople are not factors and long-term development can be pursued.
  • Sales Cycle – The longer your sales cycle, the longer it will take to generate results from any initiative.

Many data points must be analyzed in order to answer questions like these.  We use science to get to the bottom of this issue, but it boggles my mind that so many executives simply sit behind their desk and and answer these questions without anything other than observations and recent sales history.  There’s a big problem with that:  observation and sales history are not relevant sources of data. 

Sales history is not even a measure of past performance and can’t be used to predict future performance.  We see examples of this on every sales force we evaluate. The salespeople with the most revenue are simply beneficiaries of either the best territory, an A-list of accounts, or a single unrepeatable large account that a sales manager helped them close.

Observation is nothing more than anecdotal special effects.  You know how you can use the computer to color a photo and add effects?  Well, our like or dislike, hopes, pride and ego color our opinions of our salespeople.

So if you have to make important business decisions about your company’s ability to grow, which should you rely on?  Consistent, accurate, data-driven recommendations or special effects?

(c) Copyright 2010 Dave Kurlan